July 13, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin
As the Kenyan Airways taxied to takeoff on the runway of Lungi International Airport, Freetown, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Two days prior, I had been stopped from flying by the airline officials because I could not produce an entry permission letter from the Kenyan Government. The entry permission was to attest that I was free of Ebola; the permission should have been sent from Nairobi, but it wasn’t and the airline officials were adamant in their refusal to let me travel.
I indeed later received the entry permission, and on this day, I was seated next to a tall English man with blond hair. The guy said it was a great privilege sitting next to me, because I am from one of the countries worse hit by Ebola. I can’t understand how that was a privilege but I guess he wanted to talk, and talk we did about the devastating effects of Ebola on Sierra Leone’s economy, and other sundry issues.
We stopped in Accra for a couple of hours for re-fueling and changing of equipment before commencing the journey to Nairobi. It lasted slightly more than six hours. By 06:15am, we commenced landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in Nairobi. We disembarked within a few minutes and went straight to the arrival wing. The airport is a delight to behold – just beautiful. It’s one of the busiest international airports on the continent. Our airport is in deep slumber compared with the one in Nairobi.
Coming from Sierra Leone, the Port Health Officials asked me to step aside for a rigorous health screening. Once cleared, I proceeded to the immigration desk where I filled the immigration and visa entry forms. Subsequently, my passport was stamped and given back to me. My anxieties disappeared. My mission to participate in the Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) conference and the ‘STOP THE BLEEDING’ campaign launch organized by the Tax Justice Network – Africa (TJN-A) was going to be accomplished, I thought.
In Africa, where to find men who are willing to help without expecting anything in return is difficult, except, perhaps, in Kenyan. They were prepared to assist with carrying my luggage and even allowing me to make calls with their phones.
As we drove from the airport to Sarova Panafric Hotel, located in the heart of Nairobi, I could see an organized city, free of rancorous activities: no traffic warden or police officer on the roads to tell motorists to obey traffic laws. Tarred roads; no potholes and traffic lights function. At night, the streets were always lit up.
Sarova Panafric Hotel has a unique and serene environment, and a great taste of exceptional hospitality. The weather was so chilled at night that I ordered a bottle of brandy. I poured a generous quantity into two glasses, one for my friend, Matkim Muriithi, and the other for yours truly. I wanted Matkim to be my guide and to assist me during my stay in Nairobi. That same night, I had a great taste of the local delicacies – ugali and sukuma served with kales. I had no difficulty cramming them down my stomach.
You cannot stay in Nairobi without noticing that vehicle drivers hardly honk. This is a clear departure from the abuse of horns and sirens by drivers in Sierra Leone, especially since the Ebola outbreak.
In Nairobi, tourism is a huge business. In 2014 alone, tourism receipts accounted for 17.9% ($827 million) of the country’s GDP. The sector provides jobs for thousands of youths. Tourist attractions are well organized and managed. “Our government has spent millions of dollars to develop and protect our tourist sites over the years,” says Jackline Makungu Wanyonyi, another friend who took me to the Animal Orphanage along Langata-Bomas Road – one of the country’s tourist centers.
The orphanage is a great sight to behold. It houses most of the continent’s endangered species such as lions, elephants, chimpanzees, buffalos, etc. Foreigners pay $25 dollar before entering the orphanage, while indigenes and residents pay $2.50 and $8 respectively.
The lesson for the Sierra Leonean government is that, there has to be a structured investment to untapped tourism potentials, which could be a major source of employment for youths as well as rake in revenues for the country.
Also, the limited land space in Nairobi has been well utilized for housing and administrative purposes. High rise buildings are common. “Town planning laws in Nairobi are effectively implemented. There are no illegal erections of buildings without permit in the city. Most buildings have existed for dozens of years without collapsing. Our 28-story Social Security Fund house is an example,” says Yunik Saidimu Naikumi, a cab driver. This is another lesson the Sierra Leonean government has to learn in order to make effective its town planning laws.
With other journalists, I visited the West Gate shopping mall – the biggest shopping mall in the country. The shopping mall will reopen next weekend two years after the deadly Al-Shabab siege.
Like Ebola check points in Sierra Leone, check points in Nairobi are for security reasons due to consistent attacks by the Al-Shabab militia group. “The threats from Al-Shabab forced our government to introduce check points in the country,” says Qarol Nganga, a journalist with the Kenyan News Agency.
I was in Nairobi to participate in the IFFs and ‘STOP THE BLEEDING’ campaign launch organized by the TJN-A, in conjunction with the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The conference brought together journalists and civil society activists across Africa. The conference was also aimed at strengthening the appreciation of the specification of finance and development in Africa, discussing the challenge of IFFs as regards the agenda for economic transformation, and to critically appraise the findings and recommendations of the Report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa by Thabo Mbeki.
The conference was insightful. It also provided me with a platform to meet with other journalists, and to learn new ways the media can contribute to the fight against IFFs in Africa.
I am immensely motivated by my experience in Nairobi. I strongly believe that, if we put our acts together and our priorities right, we can surmount our challenges. In short, I love Nairobi.